Today, the US Senate lost another rising star.
by Bob Sackamento, Sun Nov 16, 2008 at 03:20:58 AM EST
Barack Obama was only the fifth African-American to serve in the US Senate. During Reconstruction, Hiram Rhodes Revels (1870-1871) and Blanche Bruce (1875-1881) helped pave a path for him and other future African-American Presidents. More recently, Edward Brooke (1967-1979) and Carol Moseley Braun (1993-1999) also opened doors for him.
Hiram Rhodes Revels--a moderate Republican minister who stumbled across politics as an educator-- lead two African-American regiments during the Civil War and founded a school for freedmen in St. Louis before serving in political office. In 1854, prior to risking his life for his country, he was imprisoned for "preaching to the black community." He was sent to the US Senate by the state of Mississippi in 1870 after serving in the state legislature. While in the US Senate, he spoke out strongly against racial injustice.
Upon Revels' admission to the Senate, Republican Senator Charles Sumner said this:
All men are created equal, says the great Declaration and now a great act attests this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality.... The Declaration was only half established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind. In assuring the equal rights of all we complete the work.
Another Senator, James Nye of Nevada, also remarked on the historical significance of Hiram Rhodes Revels' accomplishment:
Jefferson Davis went out to establish a government whose cornerstone should be the oppression and perpetual enslavement of a race because their skin differed in color from his. Sir, what a magnificent spectacle of retributive justice is witnessed here today! In the place of that proud, defiant man, who marched out to trample under foot the Constitution and the laws of the country he had sworn to support, comes back one of that humble race whom he would have enslaved forever to take and occupy his seat upon this floor.
Blanch K. Bruce, who was born into slavery to become a county tax assessor and sheriff, was sent to the US Senate in 1874, where he was the first African American Senator to serve a full term (1875-1881). He was only 32. Sadly, the KKK's rise in the Mississippi sparked repression and violence in the state to a level that deterred Blanch K. Bruce from serving a second term.
In modern times, Edward William Brooke became the first African American to be elected to the US Senate by popular vote (1966), where he served two terms. He was also the first African American to serve in the US Senate since Blanch K. Bruce and would remain the only US Senator to serve there until Carol Moseley Braun. While there, he became a leading proponent of housing rights and paved the way for the Equal Credit Act, "which ensured married women a right to credit of their own." In 2004, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He was the last Republican sent to the Senate by the state of Massachusetts.
Carol Elizabeth Moseley Braun was elected to the US Senate in 1993 after serving after serving in the Illinois House of Representatives. To date, she is the only African-American woman to serve in the US Senate. As a Senator, she fought for education, civil rights and government reform. She was also a strong opponent of the death penalty.
Today, Barack Obama ends a short but prolific Senate career to serve as the next President of the United States. On his path to the US Senate, where he served admirably until his nation called him to a higher service, Barack Obama became the first African-American President of the Harvard Law Review, a warrior for the American worker and a remarkable State Senator for Illinois.
Although he leaves a glaring and gaping vacancy in the US Senate, his historic journey, like those that preceded it, has knocked down barriers for future Hiram Rhodes Revels, Blanche Bruces, Edward Brookes, Carol Moseley Brauns and Barack Obamas.
Please see Deoliver47's background, posted on dailykos, of the controversy surrounding Revels' admission to the Senate.